Big Green Purse: Shopping for the World You Want

While I am almost daily confronted with the fact that I am crossing the ill defined line from interest into obsession when it comes to Green Issues which among other things is making me a difficult conversationalist (I do not advise bringing up supposedly poor mileage of the Prius or try to lame CFL’s due to their Mercury content… it gets ugly.) Admitting you have a problem is the first step right?

Anyway. Taking my daily spin around the Environmental News Network this morning (remember the obsession thing) I stumbled upon Big Green Purse.  BGP is focused on helping women make more sustainable purchases.  Why the female focus? Because women spend 85% of the money in the marketplace.  Given the serious amounts of money spent in the consumer economy, educating that percentage can literally change the world we live in.

Still exploring it, but it looks fabulous!

-Rob

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The Archdruid Report

A site that I had read some last year, but gotten away from was The Archdruid Report, authored by John Michael Greer… who also happens to be the Archdruid of the US. Druidism has changed alot over the millennia, it was effectively stamped out for several centuries, and, to my knowledge, its resurgence has no direct connection to the Druids of Old. But the principles are still intact: knowledge, balance, music, and Nature. As important, JMG is a significant scholar and accomplished writer, though I admit I am not overly drawn to his work on Monsters, Magic, etc.

On his blog he writes a weekly report that is typically well researched, lengthy, and typically sparks a significant degree of discussion. Topics very often hover around the coming challenges of the 21st Century, and possible Druidic responses to them.

The past two weeks he has written about agriculture, specially it current issues with declining oil resources and its the possible solutions drawing from its deep history of adaptations. Good stuff!

Links to his recent posts:

Agriculture: The Price of Transition

Agriculture: Closing the Circle

-Rob

Gasifier Stove: IGNITION!


This past weekend the crew met again to assemble the disparate parts of our gasifier and do a trail run. Not only did no one blow up, but we succeeded in producing and burning hydrogen! If a bunch of chumps (ok we had 2 engineers)from WI can do this, there is hope for us in Energy Decline yet.

Look Ma: we turned wood chips into Hydrogen for $75 and 3 weekends!

Next steps will be adding something to actually use the hydrogen-either to power a tractor, or as a co-gen unit to produce heat/power for a structure. Aquaponics greenhouse anyone?

-Rob

Building Soils to Save the Planet

Last year when I was reading through the Scientific Amercian Articles about Climate Change Solutions, and again in Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, I was stunned by the carbon emissions from agriculture. I understood the simple logic of the implications with cutting/burning trees for ag land, but they were referring to regular existing Ag Land. After mulling it over while reading/watching, I got distracted and never really gave it much more thought.

Now I am reading more books about soil fertility, and other tid bits of info are coming back to me. Like I read somewhere that most depleted soils worldwide are carbon, not nitrogen limited as most commonly thought. And then there is the carbon sequestration aspects that are mentioned in the arguments for Switchgrass Ethanol. In Building Soils for Better Crops, the authors mix in alot of sustainability into their soil talk- no aspect of our lives can afford to be treated in a vacuum. Part of that is getting more in detail about the placement of soils in the Global Carbon Cycle.

According to the authors, there is more carbon stored in soil (soil will mean the top 6″ in this post), than in all plants, animals, and the atmosphere. They make a great example that makes is very accessible: there is as much carbon in a soil with 1% organic matter than there is in the entire atmosphere above that acre. There is about 2,000,000 pounds of soil in the top 6″ of an acre, so 1% of that is about 10 tons. Here is the kicker, most soil on undisturbed Prairie had organic matter in the 10-12% range. After a century of tilling it is down to about 2%. The authors don’t do this math, but to me, it is a safe assumption that for every acre of prairie “busted” in the last century we put 90 tons of carbon into the air. We have 349,000,000 acres of crop land, using the math ( I realize we are compounding any errors in the earlier examples but focus on scale not specifics) we have emitted 31,410,000,000 tons of carbon just from Ag Land. This is where the despair comes in.

I hate despair. I don’t have time to be depressed, so I immediately start looking for solutions. That incredibly daunting math in the above paragraph can work in reverse. While Big Coal panders about trying to find way to sequester carbon from their electric plants with some other Huge Industrial Idea, Nature has already created a perfect system: in her own plants.

This is where it gets exciting for me. Our cropland is currently near death and on chemical life support, primarily due to the lack of organic materials in the soils. For every 1% of organic material we add back into an acre of soil we save 10 tons of Carbon, while also significantly increasing the productivity of the land for food production. And the best ways to get organic material back into the land? Sustainable Ag practices: crop rotations with sod forming cover crops, reduced tilling, composting, and applications of animal manures instead of nitrogen derived from natural gas. Basically turn the clock back 60 years and call a “Do Over”.

I’ve read that if we converted every farm east of the Missouri River to the farming practices of Joel Salatin we would remove as much carbon as we emit every year. That seems a little far fetched, but it is safe to say we have at our finger tips the ability to significantly increase the quality and quantity of our food production while simultaneously reducing our Carbon emissions to a huge degree.

Maybe all the answers to life can be found in a Garden!

-Rob

Look Up…

I added a new page to begin to list the myriad books that have gotten me to where I am today.  The stack of books was almost 4′ tall so it will take a while to get it into type.  Enjoy!

-Rob

Starfish and Moral Imperatives

In a recent post, Ed over at The Slow Cook brought my attention back to an issue that most of us have know to be brewing as soon as we starting to do the math of the Great Ethanol Push. Basically there really isn’t enough farm land now for the world population, despite the arguments to the contrary, and converting ever increasing amounts of crop land to put fuel in Excursions is an idea bound to send someone to Hell

The “Crime Against humanity” comment was a month ago, and the FAO started backpedaling within days, but now the  truth is out. The poorest of the poor are much, much worse off thanks to Bush’s ill conceived push to use corn and wheat to make fuel to greenwash GM’s Hummers rather than make hard descions (some call it “leadership”) and push for efficiency and Real Change.

In the mean time, our soft drinks and McBurgers will go up some in price, but millions will find it even harder to feed their children. Triage appears to be beginning, and the debate about local food production is rapidly becoming less academic in the face of Moral Imperatives.

Even in my darkest moments, I never thought it would cause huge impacts within the first year after Bush stated that Ethanol was our Savior. Suddenly my debate between which of the plots I am considering on using for my market garden seems incredibly arrogant. Here I am with enough access, resources, and leisure time to debate where I want to grow my surplus food.

The mission is now changing. If I can get enough helpers, it will now be about how much we can grow in the county. Not on my one 1/4 acre, but on dozens. Every pound of food we produce locally makes a difference. This was a 5 year goal. It just got bumped.

One of the favorite stories I tell my children seems appropriate:

Once upon a time, a boy found starfish washed up on the beach after a big storm. He began throwing them back into the ocean, one by one. His grandfather told him that there were too many, that he could never make a difference. The boy calmly threw another into the ocean and said, “I made a difference for that one.”

I can’t save the world… but I can try. Always for me, the best antidote to despair is action. Food Banks here in America are also going empty. Hunger is hunger.

Be the Change.

-Rob

1/10 Acre Veggie Garden

I’ve been dorking out on my new MacBook and the iWork software I bought with it. Thus far, despite complete ignorance of Macs, I have found the Pages and Numbers applications to be very intuitive and much slicker for my purposes than the Microsoft equivalents I use at work. Unfortunately, apparently only 4 other people in the world us them, so to share documents I export into PDF’s- a lot. Here is one:

1/10th Acre Sustainable Veggie Plot

At first blush there is a lot of wasted space. A 4000 sq ft garden with only 1000 sq ft of “productive” beds?! But 33% of the beds are designed to be under long season cover crop at all times- as I get more elegant with my rotations this may be overkill. There is also 1000 sq ft of perennial herb/flower beds to attract benificials that will also produce significant amounts of cut flowers and trace nutrients for the table. This is critical to the long term sustainability of the plot. Without attracting and keeping a strong population of beneficial insects, bacteria and fungus eventually the gardens will fal prey to overwhelming pest invasions. The paths may be overkill and could easily be trimmed from their current 2′ to as little as 1′ on every other path. I would keep the 5′ access path for harvesting the significant amounts of produce from this garden and for trucking in compost and mulch. The “wasted” space allows the soil to rest and recharge fertility after being “pulsed” with heavy feeding annual vegetable crops. The hope is that by incorporating so much cover crop and perrenials that the plot will add fertility over time without additional inputs.

Another specific goal I was trying to design into this layout was a rotation system to significantly reduce the pest pressures of conventional vegetable gardens. Circling the entire perimiter with a diverse mix of flowers designed to attract predatory insects will force any pests to run a gauntlet before reaching the crops. For the same reason every year, the rotation crosses a perenial bed to force any pests that over winter to search far and wide for their food-increasing the likelihood that they will become food themselves in turn. As the rotation crosses the flower bed, it “drops” one bed, once it reaches the “bottom” of its three bed section it will cross back to the top. I tried to show this in the PDF but it got wicked busy. I may try again as this description is rough too.

The Rotational system divides the crops into groups by Plant Family, allowing 2 beds per plant family per year. Following the rotation ensures that 6 years passed between each plant family residing in each bed. Added layers of biodiversity and productivity can be added by incorporating succesional plantings in each bed to get two crops, and/or preceding or succeeding each with a short season cover crop to rebuild soil structure.

This design can be cut in half or more by shortening the beds from 40′ to 20′, 10′ or less, and can be expanded indefinitely by stacking layouts next to each other. I also plan on making this a “no-till” using chicken “tractors” to incorporate cover crops and fertilize the beds after harvest and before plantings. By not breaking the soil surface you encourage immensely more productive and diverse soil ecosystems, and it also makes it Peak Proof by taking out the fossil fuels completely.

I have 3 more books on this subject in my Winter Reading queue which should help me fill in the holes of the successional plantings in each bed each year, and also to get more specific with the plants I will place in the Perennial Beneficial Beds. This will eventually be made into a “page” under sustainable ag as I fill in the gaps. I also fully intend on putting this design into practice at the Market Garden this year, and the learnings once I put spade to soil will be legion.

-Rob

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